As you elbow your way through the summertime crowds around the Trevi Fountain, you’ll find it hard to believe that this little piazza was nearly always deserted before the 1950s, when it started starring in films. The first was “Three Coins in the Fountain.” It was also the setting for an iconic scene in Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece, “La Dolce Vita,” and it’s also where the Audrey Hepburn character in “Roman Holiday” gets her signature haircut. To this day, thousands of euros worth of coins are tossed into the fountain every day.
Supplied with water from the Acqua Vergine aqueduct and a triumph of the baroque style, the fountain was based on the design of Nicola Salvi—who’s said to have died of illness contracted during his supervision of the project—and was completed in 1762. The design centers on the triumphant figure of Neptune, standing on a shell chariot drawn by winged steeds and led by a pair of tritons. Two allegorical figures in the side niches represent good health and fertility.
On the southwestern corner of the piazza is an unimpressive-looking church, SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio, with a strange claim to fame. Within it survive the relics (hearts and intestines) of several popes. According to legend, the church was built on the site of a spring that burst from the earth after the beheading of St. Paul; the spring is one of the three sites where his head is said to have bounced off the ground.